Monday, June 25, 2018

Gameday in St. Pete: A Devil of a Time Watching the Rays


It's exactly .9 miles from our hotel to the entrance of Tropicana Field. Along the way, we walk west on Central Avenue, a funky half mile of bars, restaurants, second hand shops, and more greeting the locals of this town as we make our way.


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Most of the people walking along with us are sporting the apparel of the visiting Atlanta Braves, where were were mightily disappointed in baseball's newest stadium.

I'm not expecting much out of this one, which...on TV and from the outside...looks like a dump.  I'm expecting an Oakland Coliseum type of experience. If you look at our list, you'll see the home of the A's firmly occupying the bottom of it.



A vast, almost empty parking lot surrounds the park as we make our way in. Tropicana Field is the last fixed-dome stadium and one of only two that still used artificial turf with the cold climate home of the Toronto Blue Jays being the other.

After making our way through security, tickets scanned, we head to the team store so Tim can get his obligatory t-shirt. Just beyond that, we find our seats in section 118...the lower level right about at first base.



We are greeted by a couple of very nice and friendly ushers who show us our seats. I notice that their shirts say "RAYS...Ready At Your Service." They really were, too. Great staff here at the Trop.



Tim and I notice that we have completely unobstructed views of the field. As wheelchair seating on the lower level of a lot of stadiums are at the top of the section, we frequently find we can't see the scoreboard or track a lot of fly balls because the deck above us blocks the view, as it did last week in Atlanta.

There won't be a ton of fans here tonight. Official attendance was around 15,000. Discount the season ticket holders who didn't show up for this Tuesday night game and 10,000 seams more about right. Most of those who were here seemed to be rooting for the visiting Braves.



There's a food court out on the primary concourse behind us on our level (there's a secondary open concourse with no vending and then the primary closed one). I go to get our snacks for the game.

An employee is standing in front of one of the snack bars hawking the food, "our hot dogs are only two dollars! Get some now, no waiting!"

Don't mind if I do get one...or two...or three. They're great hot dogs and even a little bigger than the versions we had at the Varsity in Atlanta and nearly as good. I get six altogether so we can each have two.

A refillable bucket of decent popcorn was only $7.50 and a refillable soda only $5 in a souvenir glass. Beer was at more normal ballpark prices (but still significantly less than in Miami...more on that later) but with such cheap food and soda, I didn't mind at all.

Oh yeah, like the guy said, no waiting.  It took me three innings to get our food in Atlanta. Less than ten minutes here, and that was going to three food stands and dropping off my goodies at our seats between each one.

The game starts and it's a good one. Tampa, with it's roof, has a unique obstacle. The catwalks that hold the PA speakers and lights are in play so if a ball deflects off of one, it's still live.



We got to see one carom off of a catwalk, sending all the players on the field into a scramble when the ball didn't go the way they expected.  Unfortunately the shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria, hit his eye on something in the confusion and had to leave the game.



It turned into a pitcher's duel with the Braves barely edging out the home team 1-0.

While we were expecting the worst, it turned out to be a beautiful place to watch a ballgame.



Smiles were plastered on our faces as we made the mile walk back to our hotel.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 24, 2018

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: St. Petersburg Pub Crawl, Part 1


We can't come to a fun, Florida city like St. Pete and not try some of the local watering holes. This city is full of places to go have fun and that included their purveyors of adult beverages. 

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It took a couple of days and we really didn't stray much more than a block from our hotel so we could walk, with maybe a stumble or two, the entire way.

We're starting off in what in no way can really be called a pub. The Annex 400 is a lunch counter, plain and simple, but they do serve beer and wine. We're starting here because we can get some of their great, inexpensive food in our stomachs before we start.

It's a nice, fat mug of cold Blue Moon with the requisite slice of orange in it to get us started.

Just around the corner is the Thirsty First Lounge, a day drinkers delight morphing into a loud, live music joint later in the day. It's just this side of the nice side of being a dive bar but the bartenders and locals are a friendly bunch, not to mention their prices are unbelievable...$3 well drinks and select  beers are also $3 until 7:00pm.



Some whiskey sours and Shocktop beers set us on our way.

On the other side of our hotel, on Central Avenue, we end up at Caddy's, one of those ubiquitous Florida joints with the live band playing outdoors like you'd see in Key West.


Their three dollar Moscow mules will put us in the mood to finish the day back on the waterfront at the sunset happy hour at the rooftop Canopy bar overlooking Tampa Bay.



Cheers!

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 22, 2018

Waking up in a New Day and a New Place: St. Petersburg, Florida


After a decent hotel breakfast at the Hyatt Place in Downtown St. Petersburg, it's time to go for a walk. We do a lot of walking on trips for two reasons: exercise and exploration.

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While our hotel in this Tampa Bay city is not on the waterfront, it's only a short block away. At the north end of the waterfront is the huge, pink, and old Vinoy Park Hotel. Tim repeatedly tells us that it has a haunted history.



The lobby reminds me of another historic hotel close to home, the Mission Inn in Riverside, California, and signs abound saying "no photos or autographs," which explains the lack of lobby photos in this post.

The Atlanta Braves are staying here while they're in town to play the Tampa Bay Rays. We see no one looking familiar or anyone else we'd even imagine asking for a signature.



Back outside, we continue along to a short peninsula jutting into the inlet here. This jay is brave enough to park next to my shoulder to pose for a picture.

We're now in Vinoy Park which has a pretty path along the water leading north to Vinoy Beach.



I hear a splash in the water below the wall where I'm standing. Could it be one of the state's manatees that I have yet to see? Naw, it's just a few dolphins cavorting a few feet below me in the bay.



Continuing on along the seawall, we come along the beach, just past a dead stingray in the water.



Beyond the view of death, the beach is very pretty and a few people are venturing out into the water on this quiet morning.



Tim and I find a storm drain leading into the bay that we can roll out on to get a better view.



Circling back, we come across the Gizella Kopsick Arboretum.



Wheelchair accessible paths let us wind through the hundreds of different species of palm trees on display here.

Easily getting our ten thousand steps in on this beautiful morning, we go back to downtown to get a light lunch. Now, we'll rest up a bit before going to our game here tonight.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

FIELDS OF DREAMS: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida


Consistently rated at one of the ugliest stadiums in baseball, the former Thunder Dome was built in 1990...just two years before the construction of Camden Yards in Baltimore would revolutionize Major League Baseball stadiums. Tropicana Field is home to the Tampa Bay Rays. It's pretty far from Tampa, though, keeping the crowds that might usually come pretty far away.



Former called the Devil Rays, the teamed dropped the "Devil" in their name in 2008. The Rays have a history of mediocre teams and being an 'also ran' but had some success when manager Joe Maddon came over from the Angels in 2006, leading to an American League pennant in 2008.

Let's take a look at the stats:

Opened: 1990
Surface: Shaw Sports Turf
Construction cost: $130 million
Capacity: 42,735 (artificially limited to 31.042 by covering top deck seats with tart)
Field dimensions: Left field - 315 ft; Left center - 370 ft; center field - 404 ft; right center - 370 ft; right field - 322 ft.
Home team: Tampa Bay Rays (American League - MLB) 1998 - present
Tampa Bay Storm (AFL) 1990-1996
Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) 1993-1996
Events attended: 1 game


Tropicana Field is the last remaining MLB stadium with a fixed roof. It is one of two stadiums in the league to have an artificial surface, Toronto is the other. A quirk in the ground rules means that if a ball hits one of the inner two rings of catwalk in the ceiling, the ball is in play. If it hits and outer ring, it's a home run.


There is good access all around the entire stadium. Wheechair seating is plentiful all around the seating bowl. Sight lines are excellent throughout the stadium.


Ticketing is easy, just go to Raysbaseball.com to click 'Tickets' at the top of the page, choose a game date, and click on on'accessible seating.'  We had no problem getting seats for the wheelchair and two companions.  Dynamic pricing means there are no set ticket prices but our seats by first base were around $40. 

Public transit is almost non-existent to this park, but there is plenty of parking...some of it free if you have four or more in the car...and is just within walking distance to downtown.

There are a large number of lodging options in the area from retro budget roadside motels to the Four Seasons. We stayed at the Hyatt Place, downtown, which was a very nice, mid-priced, option that included breakfast.

Food choices are quite extensive There is a large food hall, with a variety of options, in the concourse behind first and third base. The night we were there, the hot dogs were very good and only $2. A bit on the small side but the price was right at  was the refillable sodas and popcorn at $5 and $7.50 respectively.

The concessions concourse is closed but monitors at the food stands allow you to follow the game. Lines were short and quick.


While this stadium is a bit old and has a run-down reputation, we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit here. What they lack in up-to-date amenities they more than make up for with immersive game action and great service to the fans.

Copyright 2018 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 18, 2018

Taking the Long Way to St. Petersburg Florida


The worst thing about a long vacation with multiple destinations is that you also need to repack your luggage multiple times (I know, you cruisers will say you don't have to do that on a cruise...we'll get to that point in another post coming soon). Luckily, we started last night with the packing and we're getting better about only taking out what we need while we're at that destination.

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Our rental car is loaded up with precision...we have to leave room in back for Tim's travel chair along with the luggage and room for Letty in the backseat. Because of the difficulty in loading Tim into a normal car seat outside of his wheelchair means that 9 times out of 10, he gets to ride shotgun.

We're making sure he's very comfortable and secure. It's a major pain in the rear to keep hauling him and his chair out of the car so we've prepared him to be sitting in this seat for seven hours.

That's right...seven hours.

Tim's OK with it this time because he's not really a fan of flying if he doesn't need to do that. And, if you think about it, it's just a little longer than flying. An hour and a half to fly from Atlanta to Tampa, plus arriving two hours before the flight, plus an hour minimum to get to the airport, plus another hour to collect our luggage, then another to get to our hotel in St. Pete.  What's that add up to...about six, six and a half hours?  The drive doesn't look so bad in comparison.

Once we're clear of downtown Atlanta, traffic eases up and about an hour or so later, we cross into Florida. After crossing under Interstate 10 (hey, it's the San Bernardino Freeway!) we soon make a planned stop for gas, bathrooms, and snacks at the Love's truck stop in in Jasper, Florida.

Loaded up with candy, cookies, soda, and a couple of 5-Hour Energy's (just in case), we head back out on Interstate 75.

There is barely any traffic. We set the cruise control for 73 miles per hour and enjoy the lush scenery all the way to Tampa, where we finally hit a bit of traffic going through downtown.


An easy trek across a very long bridge on Tampa Bay puts us on the peninsula and into St. Petersburg. The GPS on my phone smoothly glides us to our hotel in the heart of downtown, the Hyatt Place.


We unpack the car, check in, and head up to our room which is nice but has a bit of a spartan feel to it. It's Hyatt's 'minimalistic' design but it's a nice, comfortable room with a window pointed out towards the bay. Unfortunately, the huge condo under construction next door blocks our view but, if we get closer to the window, we can see the water on either side.

The hotel manager tells me there's a row of restaurants and bars along the waterfront a little over a block away. We walk over there, ending up at Canopy restaurant and bar.


The Canopy is a rooftop bar on top of the Birchwood Hotel with a beautiful view of Tampa Bay. An elevator takes us and Tim up. It's happy hour so we order some cheap drinks and a couple of appetizers.


We share this flatbread pizza...


...and this dish of loaded tater tots.  It's very delicious and fills us up well for less that $30, including the drinks.


We're here, we're settled, so we still have some time to take a stroll along the waterfront where we find a couple of giant banyan trees.


The sun is setting so it's time to head back in. There'll be plenty of time to see this beautiful city in the next few days.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 17, 2018

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: South Florida Drinking Tour


You regulars might be a bit disappointed but we really didn't hit too many bars on our recent foray to the Keys but we did hit three you might be interested in checking out.


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We start off in the Conch Republic of Key West, home of the perpetual Spring Break. I had a goal here to try a true daiquiri in the land of Hemmingway.

My unscientific method of finding that...consisting of talking to the local coffee shop owner where I had breakfast...confirmed that I should skip Duval Street and the usual tourist joints like Sloppy Joes and head to a backwater bar.



Blue Heaven was the recommendation I got for Key West's most authentic version. Made from scratch using only local Key lime juice, rum, and simple syrup, these hit the spot on this very hot, southern Florida day.  The bar itself sits in the back courtyard of a few buildings, a tropical garden hidden from the street.

Great place to spend a few minute escaping from the maddening crowd of Duval Street.



But, we can't come to Key West and not take a stroll down the infamous Duval Street. When our whistles need wetting again, it's over to the Flying Monkeys Saloon. Here, a bank of frozen drink mixers sit behind the bar with a dozen or so alcoholic concoctions and one non-alcoholic blend to slake the heat and thirst that this city inspires.

Tim has their non-alcoholic drink, a glass filled with an extra sweet blue goo (which is where he gets that very blue tongue in the picture above) while Letty and I go with the Yuengling beer that is so prevalent in Florida.



Later in the week, it's mojitos at Mango's Tropical Bar in South Beach where we find a quiet spot to sip and watch the beautiful people walk by.

It's all in the video, above, come along and take a ride with us as we sip our way up from the Keys.

-Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserve

Friday, June 15, 2018

Car Shows and Dr. King's Neighborhood: Atlanta, Georgia


There's a show on the NBC Sports network called Caffeine and Octane which is a car lovers dream. Each week, it visits the largest car show in North America. In addition to showing some of the best car porn on TV, it profiles some of those machines and owners.


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We watch it from time to time. Then, I found out that it happens just down the street from our hotel at the Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody, Georgia. On the first Sunday of the month, which is today, and it's free.



Guess what we're starting this day off with...



We wander around the large, mostly empty mall lot (early Sunday morning) and then we find it. Thousands and thousands of cars and truck. Mostly organized around type, make, or model. For example, there were a lot of Jeeps parked together as were Jaguars and Mustangs. Mostly because car clubs would show up early and park together.



This is just the outer edges. More and more vehicles make up the rings as we head towards the center. When the cars show up in the morning, the show organizers are there to cherry pick the best of the bunch. A few hundred are redirected in the center corral of the mass to be featured on the TV show.



It's both an honor and a curse to be selected...if you outside of the center, you can go whenever you want. If you're selected, you have to stay the entire show because the producers want to have a 'full' look to the proceedings and don't want cars leaving early to show empty spots.



We see many mint-condition classics, oddballs, and custom restorations. It's great fun but around the edges of the show, there a few douchebags that have to do burnouts, loud revs, and speed runs. It doesn't seem safe to be walking around out there.

After getting our fill, we leave and head back into the city for some more history lessons.



East of downtown Atlanta, in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, is Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park. It was here the civil rights leader was born, where he attended church, school, and is now interred.

There's a large parking lot on the north side of the park, across the street from the visitor's center and the current edition of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church he and his family were heavily involved with.



We start off in the visitor's center where a film on Dr. King's life is shown, along with exhibits of his efforts to secure rights for all Americans, his death, and...finally...his burial.  The rustic wooden wagon that served to carry his coffin is also on display here.



Afterward, we make our way down the block to the fire station that became Atlanta's first integrated station then on to the house, a half block away, where he was born.

Tickets for the fully accessible tour are free at the visitor's center but they had already given out that day's quota.



For us, we had to be content with the exterior, walking around the porch, and into the backyard.

On the way back, we go through the pools and fountains of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Dr. King was passionate that his cause would not be violent, at the beginning of each march, hundreds of knives and other weapons were taken from marchers so that they would not be the catalyst for fighting.



This center, adjacent to the national park, is also where Dr. King and his wife are buried in a marble tomb at the center of the pond.



An eternal flame burns nearby.

Next door is the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, now part of the park.  A docent deploys a portable ramp for Tim. Inside, a lift takes him up to the second floor sanctuary.



We wander around the space where King and his father preached from the pulpit. Much of the support and planning for Dr. King's efforts came from this building and this room.



Across the street, Sunday services are in full swing at the current church. You're welcome to attend but in our touring clothes of shorts and t-shirts, we limit ourselves to watching the vigorously spiritual service from the foyer where large glass windows and speakers allow visitors like us to watch from just beyond the back pew.

This visit makes a good counterpoint to a visit to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated. Here, there is more of a celebration of his life than a focus on his death like there is there.

It makes for an inspirational finale to our time in Atlanta.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved